Nostalgia and outdated pop culture are a heck of a combination, and usually one that doesn’t end too well.
Warner Bros’ reboot of Joe Pytka’s cult comedy Space Jam (1996) looks to be testing this formula as far as it can go based on the new trailer for Malcolm D. Lee’s Space Jam: A New Legacy.
Revisiting the original as an adult, I came to three conclusions: 1) nearly all of the ‘90s pop culture references are obsolete now, 2) professional athletes should probably stick to the court rather than experiment with acting, and 3) the soundtrack is still the best part of the movie.
But before we can joke about the sequel being an easy cash grab, consider the distracting hypocrisy of the trailer as pointed out on social media platforms. Unlike the first film, which just featured classic Looney Tunes characters, plus some new cartoon faces, alongside basketball superstar Michael Jordan, this new flick tosses everything at the wall. It appears to include nearly all of the properties the studio currently owns in addition to LeBron James.
Appearances are made by the Scooby-Doo gang, the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz (1939), Jim Carrey’s alter-ego in The Mask (1994), Pennywise from It (2017), Batman, Superman and Matrix villains, Mama Fratelli from The Goonies (1985) and even the title character of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).
Someone at Warner Bros must have seen Phil Johnston and Rich Moore’s Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018) and thought, “Yes, let’s make a Space Jam sequel as an excuse to do our own version of this.”
This would be only amusingly obvious if it weren’t for some more controversial character cameos also spotted in the new trailer. These include Droogs from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), the War Boys of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and the White Walkers of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (2011-19). The first two are from R-rated movies and the third a TV-MA cable series, and all feature graphic violent content.
Why are these characters making appearances in a family friendly fantasy-comedy? It would be one thing to have them as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background Easter eggs for the parents watching the movie, but the Droogs are front and center of a whole shot. These additions are not only peculiar, but almost hilariously bewildering after Warner and Lee went out of their way to claim the new movie would be more progressive by having Lola Bunny less sexy and more girl power heavy, while snubbing Pepe Le Pew.
Looking back on the first Space Jam, Lola was a bit alluring, but also portrayed as a good basketball player, so the sex appeal didn’t make much of a difference. Pepe’s absence is not surprising, since the character’s shtick is very dated.
For those who don’t remember or are unaware, Pepe is a skunk with a French accent who is constantly trying to woo a female cat he is smitten with. The only issue is that she’s disgusted by his stench and constantly trying to rush away, while Pepe is oblivious to both his odor and her repulsion.
Watching some of the old Pepe cartoon shorts on YouTube, it is a little awkward to see the skunk so physically up in the cat’s personal space while she’s not interested in him at all, even if the gag is on him. But what’s hypocritical in the current context is the now-canceled skunk was featured in Space Jam 25 years ago without this flirtatious behavior.
It’s hard to understand the canceling of Pepe Le Pew in a movie that is already overloaded with outdated and inappropriate pop culture references for family audiences.